This naturalistic drama from France follows a young woman as she immerses herself in the underground world of urban motorbiking — it’s a seductive thrill-ride that falters as a character study.
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By Beatrice Loayza
“Rodeo” may revolve around a found family of adrenaline junkies and high-velocity heists, but “The Fast and the Furious” it is not. Instead, the debut narrative feature by the director Lola Quivoron has the feel of a docufiction, inspired by the urban rodeos of the French suburbs, a kind of youth subculture prevalent in lower-income communities in which motorbike riders take over streets, race and pull risky stunts.
It’s not an uncommon activity in the States, but in France, these rowdy gatherings are especially popular — and furiously loathed. The good and the bad comes through in Quivoron’s naturalistic drama, which follows a disgruntled, semi-homeless young woman, Julia (Julie Ledru), as she immerses herself in the scene and joins a criminal posse led remotely by the incarcerated Domino (Sébastien Schroeder).
Filled with rousing rodeo footage and gleeful getaways, the film portrays the anarchic thrill of motorbiking with seductive grit, its smoky blue images, shot by the cinematographer Raphaël Vandenbussche, recalling the atmospheric thrillers of Michael Mann. These visceral moments evoke the sense of empowerment motorbiking creates for otherwise underprivileged — young, primarily Black and brown — people. But the danger is palpable as well.
Ledru’s gruff performance gives Julia the devil-may-care swagger of a young Michelle Rodriguez, though an early violent event — a fiery rodeo accident resulting in the death of a crew member — reveals a dormant sensitivity and a longing for camaraderie.
“Rodeo” pivots to action-movie territory in the last act when Domino takes Julia — a savvy thief — up on a scheme involving a freight truck loaded with shiny new bikes. But for the most part the scattered script careens around various lackluster intrigues: Julia’s rivalry with one of Domino’s other lackeys, her fraught family life and, most important, the friendship she strikes up with Domino’s wife, Ophélie (Antonia Buresi). The guarded Julia certainly intrigues, but too often the film sinks into the clichés of a rugged character study — no wonder she prefers to accelerate.
Not rated. In French, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes. In theaters.
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